Dueling Ingenues: Cristina Perez and Kristina Morales

He Said:

A million-dollar talent played a million-dollar instrument, and most people didn’t even notice. Several friends have mentioned to us the experiment in context performed by The Washington Post in which renowned violinist Joshua Bell performed on a Stradivarius in a D.C. subway, unremarked by most passers-by. Many conclusions have been drawn from this. Here is one view, and here is another. Let me offer a third: I claim no expertise in classical music and I cannot speculate on the rarity of Joshua Bell’s talents. But I am confident that the only thing preventing us from encountering brilliant musicians in the NOLA subways on a daily basis is the lack of the subway. We’ve got the musician thing covered.

Food has been the North Star of this project since its inception, but music is another abiding passion we share. We’ve spent the fall reviving the blog and exploring some of the amazing new restaurants all over town; the Holidays are a particularly good time to be food-centric. Now that the calendar has turned to January we’re starting to get juiced for Festival Season, and not just because of the food booths. We’ve been a few places both in and out of the country, and each has their charms, but none are as musical as New Orleans. Not Paris, not Barcelona, not Rome, not San Francisco, and not Saint Petersburg. The more places we go the more we realize we have right here. Starting with this post, the nature of the blog is going to change significantly as we devote some of our prose to a celebration of the Trenta-sized collection of musical talent among which we live.

So let’s get started with a couple of amazing performers we were able to check out three blocks away from each other on a random Sunday night with no cover charge. Life is very, very good.

Cristina Perez and Kristina Morales share more than a first name and some Latin blood; both are old-school jazz vocalists of what appears to be a similar age. We’d not seen either before last Sunday when, desperate for some live music in our souls, we discovered that Perez was performing at BMC (Balcony Music Club) on lower Decatur and Morales was at the Spotted Cat on Frenchmen. The proximity made this a perfect opportunity to compare the ladies almost side by side, so we stopped in for a bite at Sylvain on the way and then headed for the backside of the Quarter.

BMC used to be the spot for Gal Holiday’s Sunday night sets; they were often a perfect capper on a weekend when we were ending it downtown. On the corner of Decatur and Esplanade, BMC is a really large club sometimes presenting music on both the main stage and the back patio, always without a cover. And they do take plastic. A review of Perez’s MySpace suggested we might be in for a little trumpet, always a good thing. When we arrived we were greeted instead by a stripped down trio: Christina on vocals and acoustic guitar accompanied by another guitar and an upright bass. Perez’ voice and the trio’s arrangements grabbed us instantly. Here’s a link to her website.

The emptiness of the club would later contrast powerfully with the crowd at Spotted Cat, and we reflected immediately on how difficult it must be as a musician to play to an empty house. When you write you always perform for the silent room, but you can post that entry and know that in theory the whole world  could be reading it. The empty bar stools and dance floor are a lot harder to deny. But Perez is instantly, recognizably, very very good. The spare makeup of the trio and open space of the club allowed the chord progressions and vocal phrasing to combine and shine. Perez carried her weight both vocally and musically as she and her crew worked their way through various nicely constructed pieces of vocal jazz. We had a drink as we listened until the set break, then headed for Frenchmen.

We offhandedly noted the profusion of tourists at The Spotted Cat these days in a recent review of Three Muses. Not that tourists per se are a bad thing; we are frequently part of that demographic ourselves in other places. Places these days get internet-assisted reputations for being authentic and we applaud those visitors for whom it is important to see more than Bourbon Street. At a certain point, however, the ratio of tourist to local reaches a tipping point (Coop’s is a great example of this) and the venue ceases to be a hidden gem. Sometimes the Cat is like that, although it can be fun to watch conventioneers from Omaha rub elbows with Traingle hipsters. But not last Sunday. As we walked in there was a lively crowd and it felt like a good place to be. FYI: The Spotted Cat is cash only.

Kristina Morales is another of those infuriatingly talented NOCCA kids, a child of the family who once ran the long-gone Tio Pepe’s restaurant. In addition to the now obligatory Facebook/MySpace, she also has a pretty nice website, given to some purple prose in the bio, but nevertheless informative. We were still buzzing from our enjoyment of the first set at BMC as we encounetered Morales and her larger ensemble, including trombone, trumpet, and clarinet. As soon as we sat with our drinks she was off on a version of La Vie En Rose that showcased her amazing pipes: This girl can really sing. Morales has a kind of cocky self-confidence that translates into a very engaging stage presence; she easily commanded the room and had people on their feet and dancing. If you’ve not encountered it you might be surprised to know that the Marigny is a locus of 8-step Swing; the dancers (sometimes of national competition caliber) are often as entertaining as the musicians.

Through the balance of the set Morales was pitch-perfect as she and her band swung through a number of danceable standards and the crowd responded. A perfect Sunday night at the Cat. After the break we headed back to the quarter, ducking our heads into BMC long enough to hear Perez knock out a great version of Dream a Little Dream during her final set. Before getting home we stopped back at Sylvain to share a little wine with the proprietor, but that is a story for another day.

So who did we like best? No idea. They were both terrific and worth adding to your list of music to check out. Christina Perez also has been known to play at Oak (a really good fit, I think) and Kristina Morales has been spotted at The Columns. Just two more examples of great musicians in a city full of them. Yes, we are very lucky.

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